This week marks the anniversary (September 17th) of Ric Flair winning his first world title, so what better time to share a few interesting stories and facts from the life of The Nature Boy?
Of course 10 facts barely scratches the surface of Flair’s legendary, often insane 40-year-plus career, so consider this just a first installment. Also, I’ve decided not to focus heavily on stories of drinking and debauchery since a) said stories are hard/impossible to verify and b) there’s a pretty fine line between a fun Ric Flair carousing story and a sad one, and we’re keeping things (mostly) happy in this article.
So, without further ado, here’s a few things you might not know about the stylin’, proflin’, limousine ridin’, jet flyin’, kiss-stealing 16-time world champion…
1) Ric Flair was adopted under shady circumstances. As you could probably guess, The Nature Boy wasn’t born Ric Flair, but it turns out his real name Richard Fliehr wasn’t his birth name either. Records are sketchy, but Flair was born in Memphis in 1949 under the name Fred Phillips, Fred Demaree or Fred Stewart.
By his own admission, Flair hasn’t looked too deeply into the details of his birth, but he was adopted from the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, a notorious orphanage which was found guilty in the early 50s of kidnapping children from their rightful mothers and arranging illegal black market adoptions. Whether Flair was the victim of this is hard to determine, since most of the orphanage’s records were destroyed or never existed to begin with and, again, Flair isn’t interested in knowing either way. Whatever the circumstances, little Fred was quickly adopted, moved to Edina, Minnesota and renamed Richard. So yes, Ric Flair’s earliest days were spent as a foundling at an evil orphanage — I dare you to write a better rags to riches story set-up.
Pictured: Ric Flair’s childhood.
2) The Nature Boy’s training was straight out of Rocky IV. Hey, remember those ridiculous training montages from Rocky IV where Sylvester Stallone runs around in the snow carrying logs and shit? Well, it turns out those scenes could have passed for a documentary of Ric Flair’s wrestling training. Ric trained under the legendary Verne Gagne, whose facilities fell somewhat short of the performance centers of today. Here’s a description from Ric Flair’s autobiography To Be the Man…
“We’d start off running along this frozen creek, slipping and sliding. I’m not exaggerating. You’d have to wear three sweat suits. The only way to stay warm was to keep moving and not slow down the whole day, for six or eight hours.
One day it was 10 degrees. The next, it was ten below. We ran around this farm, not on a track, but on a customized path that went about two miles.”
Here’s Ric’s friend and fellow trainee Ken Patera describing the ring they trained in…
“We went to work out in the ring, which was inside on of Verne’s old horse barns. The horses were downstairs, and the chickens were upstairs. It was below-zero temperatures, with one light bulb in the whole barn, just dangling on a wire. The slats on the barn were about an inch apart, so there were times when we’d show up to four-foot snowdrifts in the place. The chickens would be roosting on the crossbeams of the barn, shitting in the ring, so we’d have to clean the mat.
The ring was all broken down, and the ropes were f*cked up. They should be tight, but these were actually drooping. Here’s Verne Gagne, a multimillionaire, and he had the worst possible conditions for us to train in.”
Want to up the absurdity level another notch or two? Believe it or not, this guy was part of Ric Flair’s training class…
He had to humble just to stay warm.
…the conditions may not have been great, but you can’t argue with the results when a single class produces two world champions.
3) This is what Ric Flair looked like at the beginning of his career.
Paul Blart, Pro Wrestler.
No, really. Ric Flair didn’t start his career as a fully-formed stylin’, profilin’ playboy. Early Ric Flair was basically Husky Harris — a big, chunky, brown-haired dude with more charisma than he knew to do with, who worked an athletic brawling style. Thankfully ol’ Space Mountain would soon undergo some extensive renovations.
4) Dusty Rhodes deserved every bad thing Flair would eventually do to him. Ric Flair has faced a lot of legendary opponents, but none of his rivalries was more iconic than his feud with Dusty Rhodes. Flair’s ongoing, decade-spanning issue with Rhodes generally revolved around Flair being an absolutely horrible human being to poor, innocent, man o’ the people, Dusty Rhodes. In real life, particularly during Flair’s early years in the business, the tables were completely reversed. Dusty Rhodes was, to put it mildly, an unrelenting butthole to rookie Ric Flair.
Flair met Dusty and Dick Murdoch on his first tour of Japan. Flair’s job was basically to carry the veteran’s bags, and they didn’t show a lot of gratitude for the service according to Flair’s book…
“They [Rhodes and Murdoch] broke down my door at the hotel, sprayed the room with a fire extinguisher, and threw my clothes out a tenth-story window.
On June 26, 1973, I was booked in a cage match for the first time in my life, against Rusher Kimura. I’d never bled in a match, so Rhodes and Murdoch gave the referee a blade and he cut me from one end of my head to the other. Afterward, I went into the back and asked somebody to take a picture, but before I could feel too much pride, I realized that they’d left me at the building, in the middle of nowhere.
After the tour, Leslie [Flair’s first wife] was supposed to meet me in Hawaii, but Rhodes and Murdoch took me to the beach, and we got so hammered that I ended up falling asleep on the sand. When I woke up, they were gone, and my wife had been waiting in the airport for nearly four hours.”
I’m sure this wasn’t even the worst of it. After reading this, I want to break Dusty Rhodes’ hand in a parking lot.
Never feel sorry for this guy. No, not even for the polka-dots.
5) Ric Flair did his time as a wrestling hippie. Delve deep enough into the dark early days of any wrestler’s career and you’ll find that embarrassing hippie gimmick he briefly thought was a good idea. The greatest wrestler of all time was no exception. Flair may have eventually worked his way around to ripping off Buddy Rogers, but Superstar Billy Graham, who, it’s often forgotten, was supposed to be playing a hippie, inspired his initial transformation from hoss to heel. So yes, for a brief period Ric Flair was prancing around in a headband and tie-dyed trunks like a goof. Thank goodness he eventually switched to respectable sequined bathrobes.
Like, wooooooo maaaaaaaaan.
6) Flair no sold a plane crash. Think John Cena no-selling real and fake injuries alike is infuriating? Well, back in 1975 Ric Flair’s airplane fell out of the damn sky and he was back wrestling full time within three months.
On a fateful October day in 1975, Ric Flair found himself in a bar chatting with Mike Farkas, a Vietnam vet and amateur pilot looking to make some extra cash. Farkas offered to save Flair some driving time by flying him and his buddies to Wilmington, North Carolina for 100 bucks a-piece. Without investigating whether Farkas knew what the hell he was doing, Flair rounded up Johnny Valentine, David Crockett, Bob Bruggers and “Mr. Wrestling” Tim Woods, who all loaded into Farkas’ Cessna 310.
Of course Cessnas aren’t meant to carry six people, particularly if most of those people are steroid-laden 70s pro wrestlers. The plane was badly over its weigh capacity, so Farkas made the decision to dump half the plane’s fuel the lighten the load. Now, I’m no pilot, but that seems like not the right decision. Unsurprisingly, the plane ran out of gas in mid-air and crashed into the runway at the Wilmington airport, killing Farkas, paralysing Valentine and fracturing Flair’s spine in three places. Flair was back in the ring by February, 1976. Talk about your unrealistic supermen.
But every cloud has its silver lining — Flair’s injuries forced him to abandon his rough, physical style and master a more cerebral, submission-based type of wrestling. It was the plane crash that definitively transformed Flair from beefy brawler into the most decorated pro wrestling performer of all time.
7) Those robes were even more expensive than they looked. Ric Flair wouldn’t be The Nature Boy without his iconic robes, but were those sparkly eyesores actually worth anything? Turns out they were. During the 70s and 80s almost all wrestling robes, including Flair’s, were made by a lady named Olivia Walker, who charged thousands of dollars for the things. Flair’s in particular could cost up to $8,000, which translates to well over $20,000 today. Oh, and you had to be a man to don the sequins, rhinestones and feathers — a typical Ric Flair robe weighed around 45 pounds.
Flair’s “lazy Sunday” robe.
8) Winning the NWA title for the first time was the least stylin’ and profilin’ night of Flair’s career. Ric Flair would like us to think his career has been one long party, but ironically the party was elsewhere when Ric Flair won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship for the first time on September 17th, 1981.
Good ol’ Dusty Rhodes, being a complete chode in real life as usual, refused to lose the NWA title in any city where he had a following lest his image be sullied, or any city where Flair had a following lest Flair actually get over. So, the title changed hands in front of a small Kansas City crowd who didn’t give a crap about either man. Dusty wasn’t motivated to play ball, so not only was there no heat, but the match itself stunk, ending on a lame superplex reversal spot.
Flair’s parents were at the show, but due to the protected nature of the business at the time they were unaware why they were there, and not being wrestling fans, didn’t really understand the significance when Flair won. Flair’s soon-to-be second wife Beth wasn’t even allowed at the show.
Backstage most of the guys were still on Dusty’s side, so there was no celebration once Flair came through the curtain. He and Jim Crockett just slunk out of the arena and Flair returned to his hotel room to do the 1981 equivalent of watching Netflix with a pint of rocky road. Saaaad woo.
Apparently the NWA didn’t own a color camera until, like, 1986.
9) Flair headlined in front of the biggest wrestling crowd of all time. Wrestlers like to measure their dicks by butts — that is to say, how many butts they’ve put in seats, and by that measurement Ric Flair is definitively the greatest of all time. Well, the co-greatest along with Antonio Inoki.
Flair and Inoki headlined Collision in Korea, a show held in North Korea in front of a truly ridiculous live audience of 190,000, beating WWE’s Wrestlemania III record by around 100,000. Sure, a lot of the Collision in Korea attendees were probably there because the government told them their rice rations were in the arena, but butts in seats are butts in seats.
Ric Flair with Jonathan Taylor-Thomas hair, making “just smelled a fart” face, while clutching his grandma’s vase in front of almost 200,000 people.
10) Ric Flair is a Family Feud champion.
Let’s be real here, winning Family Feud was probably more prestigious than a couple of Flair’s late-career WCW title wins.
Flair class is adjourned for now, but I’m sure I’ll have more factoids in the future. Have any good Ric Flair facts or stories? I tried to steer clear of the raunchy stuff, but there are no such restrictions on you, so go wild.
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